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Qatar’s global commitment to protecting education from attack

Around 224 million children globally remain out of school.

The past two decades have marked an important transitional period in Qatar’s domestic and international developments, in which one cannot oversee its major strides in the education sector, which stands as a key pillar within the country’s vision.

The establishment of Qatar Foundation (QF) in 1995 by Sheikha Moza bint Nasser represented one of the most prominent milestones in the Gulf nation’s development, positioning Doha as an educational hub in the region and beyond.

As Qatar expanded its educational capacities, it also extended a helping hand towards crisis-hit countries retaining the basic right to education, becoming a steadfast partner of key international agencies and institutions, most notably the United Nations.

By 2012, Sheikha Moza established the Education Above All Foundation (EAA), which has since provided a vital lifeline for students forced out of their classrooms globally due to crises and conflict.

In championing the right to education, Sheikha Moza also led an initiative at the UN in 2020 in order to mobilise international support to ensure accountability for the ongoing attacks on education. 

The Qatari efforts culminated in the recognition of 9 September as the International Day to Protect Education from Attack.

“Under all these [international] laws, attacking education, attacking the right to education, it’s a crime. I’m not asking for too much, I’m asking that everyone should act or make a difference according to what he can and his means,” Sheikha Moza told CNBC last year.

As the world marks the UN day, Doha News looks back at Qatar’s major international efforts in supporting the fundamental right to education.

Afghan women and girls

One of Qatar’s most prominent recent demonstrations of its commitment to ensuring universal access to the fundamental right is its continued support for education in Afghanistan.

Within months after the Taliban’s return to power in 2021, the interim administration tightened their restrictions on the daily life of females through various repressive policies, including the ban on women and girls from education.

Qatar was among the nations that slammed the Taliban’s decisions at the time while expressing its support for women and girls. 

In its dedication to safeguarding the right to education, Qatar welcomed the ‘Afghan Dreamers,’ an all-girls robotics team, shortly after the Taliban assumed control, as a part of its support efforts.

In the past year, Doha initiated the Qatar Afghan Scholarship Project (QASP), which received support from EAA and the Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD).

This launch signalled the beginning of the 2022-2023 academic year, during which QASP provided full scholarships to 250 Afghan students, enabling them to attend over 40 colleges and universities across the United States, in at least 17 different states.

With Afghanistan still reeling from a humanitarian crisis caused by decades of conflict and drought, Qatar led a number of other initiatives to provide children with education.

In February, QFFD and Iran inked a memorandum of understanding to provide education to 24,900 Iranian and Afghan refugee children in the Islamic Republic.

According to Iranian government figures, the country hosts 800,000 refugees.

Support for Palestinians under occupation

The Palestinian cause has long been at the heart of Qatar’s foreign policy, with the Gulf state repeatedly slamming the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its grave human rights violations against the indigenous population.

According to the 2022 Education Under Attack report, there were 5,000 instances of attacks on educational institutions and incidents of military use of schools and universities worldwide during the years of 2021 and 2022. 

Out of the 28 countries profiled, Palestine was ranked as one of three countries most affected by attacks on schools, as it continues to struggle under the ongoing Israeli occupation.

Part of Qatar’s unwavering support for Palestine comes through its backing of humanitarian initiatives, some of which are aimed at providing Palestinian youth and children with tools to back their educational endeavors. 

In 2009, EAA established the Al Fakhoora programme following the deadly Israeli war on Gaza, in which more than 1,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed and thousands of buildings were destroyed.

The programme rebuilt educational facilities destroyed by the Israeli attacks while providing children and youth with much-needed psycho-social support following the traumatic event.

To date, the programme has provided 1,238 higher education and empowerment scholarships to Palestinians in the besieged Gaza strip and occupied West Bank.

Separately in 2020, QFFD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Palestine’s Ministry of Education to further expand EAA’s efforts in supporting Palestinian refugee students under UNRWA’s schools in the region.

Breaking Syrian refugees’ and IDPs’ isolation

Qatar’s persistent support for Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP’s) earned it global praise over the past decade since the beginning of its crisis in 2011, under Syria’s Bashar Al Assad regime.

The Syrian regime has caused the world’s biggest refugee crisis since plunging the country into war, with Syrian refugees representing at least 6.5 million out of the global figure. 

An estimated 2.4 million Syrian children, almost half of the school-aged population, are out of the classroom due to the war, the UN said in May.

Qatar has long sought to break the isolation of Syrian refugees and IDP’s in northern Syria through humanitarian initiatives, which also involve educational projects to provide the targeted population with the basic right.

In 2016, Doha launched a joint initiative titled ‘Qatar Upholding Education for Syrians’ Trust’, which sought to enable Syrians affected by the crisis in their home country to “unlock their full potential” through unhindered access to education.

In 2022, the QFFD launched the Syria Education Program, which aimed at providing critical support to schools in northwestern Syria as they navigated the harsh winter season. The Qatar-backed programme supported more than 190,000 beneficiaries by providing safe learning environments.

Women in Conflict Zones

As part of its efforts to further empower women and girls through the education sector, Qatar launched the Women in Conflict Zones (WICZ) initiative in September 2022 under the presence of the Gulf state’s Minister of State for International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lolwah Al Khater.

“This is a programme that is one of its kind in our region and we hope that it will have, hopefully, a positive impact on girls and women in our region and beyond,” Al Khater told Doha News at the time of the launch.

The senior Qatari official added that the initiative “focuses on developmental projects for women in different areas in our region and beyond the region”.

“This includes education in the health sector, economic empowerment, peace and mediation, and also three other areas,” Al Khater noted.

‘Education Cannot Wait’

Qatar’s global efforts to back education also involve supporting much larger initiatives led by international agencies.

This was seen in February when QFFD, together with EAA, pledged $20 million to back the UN’s Education Cannot Wait (ECW) initiative in an effort to support children around the world who have been denied the right to access education.

The ECW is a UN “global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises” aimed at benefiting 222 million children and adolescents affected by crises.

“Education is a driving force to advance humanity. It serves as the foundation of human and economic development and is key for achieving an equitable, just, and peaceful future for all,” Khalifa Al-Kuwari, QFFD’s Director General, said at the time.

Three years since the first International Day to Protect Education from Attack was launched, an estimated 224 children worldwide remain out of school.

“We, the international community, are failing and we must do more. We must bring all that we have to this problem, our collective minds, our creativity, our expertise, and the will to succeed. We cannot remain numb to the destruction around us,” Sheikha Moza warned last year.

The UN day hopes to provide the international community with yet another wake up call to support education around the world and ensure no child is out of school—a goal that Qatar is striving to achieve.